Cedar Rapids Kennedy teacher Jason Lester and several of his current and former students standing in a classroom

Raise Up Teachers: Jason Lester

By Bryon Houlgrave

Jason Lester wears many hats at Cedar Rapids Kennedy High School. He teaches, coaches, helps set up lights in the theater and sometimes serves as the tech guy.

On April 6, 2023, Iowa PBS educational outreach specialist Abby Brown joined former student Nat McCord and Nat’s mother, Rita, as they surprised Lester in his classroom for Iowa PBS’s Raise Up Teachers initiative.

“I really appreciate that you create multiple spaces for all kinds of different kids,” Rita McCord said. “If there’s a niche that somebody needs, you are willing to step in and create a space and for them to have a space to belong. As a mom, I really appreciate that.”

Lester, who grew up in both Cedar Rapids and Oskaloosa, is the computer science teacher at Kennedy. Recently, he took on the role of faculty advisor for the school’s esports club, which participates in competitive gaming events. He took on this new role when he was approached by Nat during their junior year.

“I just appreciate everything you’ve done,” Nat McCord said, addressing Lester during the surprise, adding that all the small things Lester did, such as purchasing computer monitors out of his own pocket, “really showed that you care.”

The popularity of esports clubs has exploded throughout school districts in Iowa. The clubs are recognized for being a safe and inclusive space for kids who want to play and compete against other schools similar to the traditional sports.  

“The kids in esports often don’t have a sense of belonging anywhere else and the community is wholly accepting of their identities,” Rita McCord said. “It is truly a safe space for kids like Nat and an important connection to school that prevents dropping out for kids who would otherwise have no connection to school.”

“The kids tell me all the time that they just really enjoy his personality,” Cedar Rapids Kennedy principal Jason Kline said. “They enjoy how much energy he has and they enjoy all of the things that he’s done for them.” 

Lester also serves as the offensive line coach on the Cougars’ football team and, just as he has with the Cougars’ esports club, Lester has forged lasting connections with members of the football team. Head coach Brian White has recognized the way kids respond to Coach Lester.

“You have to build a bond with those kids in order for them to be successful on a Friday night,” Coach White said. “He’s really valuable to our football program.”

“I’ve got great students, I’ve got great parents, I’ve got a great administration … it’s been awesome,” Lester said. 

“I love doing what I do.”